Question from Brian:
Hi, it’s me again. I’ve been in many arguments with christians in the past few weeks, and there’s just one thing I don’t know how to respond to. What is the best way to respond when they say they’ve personally talked to god?
It’s easy enough to talk to God, but getting Him to talk back is hard if He’s not there, and unless you record it there’s no way to prove it.
Many are convinced that their personal gods have spoken directly to them. The speakers are different, contradictory gods for different people in different places, mind you, so at least someone out there has to be completely sincere and yet wrong.
So, assuming just for the moment that a believer’s particular god either doesn’t exist or just didn’t really speak to him, how can he/she (he, henceforth, for convenience) be so sure it talked?
Foremostly, he wants it to be true. Perceived direct contact validates his beliefs, whether new or lifelong, and is a great honour to boot. Even if he’s in some doubt as to whether it’s true, he might still claim certainty in order to convince more people to seek God.
On top of that, any of a number of things might have happened. He could have dreamed it and not realised. He could have interpreted what he thought God’s answer would be as God putting the answer directly into his head. He could have been in something resembling a trance (evangelical group prayer methods, like many others, can sometimes approach hypnotic techniques) or on some substance (knowingly or unknowingly) and interpreted just about anything as God. Or, of course, someone else could have been pretending to be God.
No believer who’s really convinced that God spoke to him will accept (immediately) that any of the above might be the case instead, so in answer to your actual question listing alternative explanations probably isn’t a good response. Perhaps it’s better to generalise: “There are any number of ways in which that might not have been God talking to you.”
Ultimately, people who claim to have talked to God are trading on their own credibility. If they don’t know you well, they’ll talk that up as much as they can, probably making other claims worth examining. Otherwise they’ll use something akin to Lewis’ Trilemma: that they’re lying, mad or telling the truth, and they’re not lying or mad. The response to this is quite simple: you don’t have to be lying or mad to be wrong.
“Many are convinced that their personal gods have spoken directly to them. The speakers are different, contradictory gods for different people in different places, mind you, so at least someone out there has to be completely sincere and yet wrong.”
Question from Brian: